Commonplace Book, 24

packing and holiday chores with toddler help

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Cinnamon ornaments: Not for eating, though Scout has tried her darnedest. We made these one afternoon with Pippin while Scout slept off her second cold of the winter. He loves cinnamon, and is an indifferent eater, and I loved that I didn’t have to swoop in and be precise about measurements since these aren’t after all, edible. (Dog biscuits are also great in this regard for toddler/preschool baking projects.)
  • TELL ME YOUR INSTANT POT RECIPES. I just got one, and I have big plans to make four-minute rice this evening, but after that, I’m kind of at a loss. Please advise!

What I’m reading:

  • Sorting Jane Austen Characters Into Hogwarts Houses: The Definitive Guide: made my nerd heart glow and caused legit LOLs more than once. Seriously, though — Henry Crawford is definitely a Slytherin, right? (Also, we started to talk Anne characters in the comments and “basically Ron in puffed sleeves” will now be my new catchphrase.)
  • Uganda Police Arrest “Separatist” Tribal King’s PM: This was our tribe in Uganda when we lived there in 2008-9, and we saw the king a time or two at the cathedral, flanked by his blockbuster-about-Africa-scary-sunglassed guards. The tribe has a fraught history with the rest of the nation — I try to explain it as sort of the hill people of Uganda, politically alienated, disadvantaged, comparatively fundamentalist and poorly educated, but the situation is further strained by the tribe being split across the border with DRC. I definitely don’t understand everything (much!) about the situation, but it doesn’t sound good.
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. I started and quit this once before, but listening to the audiobook is going much better. (J’s read it before, and I refuse to have him read something I haven’t. Except pure philosophy. Also geometry of any kind.) After having just read those monk picture books for co op, it’s fun to continue steeping myself in monastic culture, albeit post apocalyptic rather than medieval:

Now a Dark Age seemed to be passing. For twelve centuries, a small flame of knowledge had been kept smoldering in the monasteries; only now were there minds ready to be kindled. Long ago, during the last age of reason, certain proud thinkers had claimed that valid knowledge was indestructible—that ideas were deathless and truth immortal. But that was true only in the subtlest sense, the abbot thought, and not superficially true at all. There was objective meaning in the world, to be sure: the nonmoral logos or design of the Creator; but such meanings were God’s and not Man’s, until they found an imperfect incarnation, a dark reflection, within the mind and speech and culture of a given human society, which might ascribe values to the meanings so that they became valid in a human sense within the culture. For Man was a culture-bearer as well as a soul-bearer, but his cultures were not immortal and they could die with a race or an age, and then human reflections of meaning and human portrayals of truth receded, and truth and meaning resided, unseen, only in the objective logos of Nature and the ineffable Logos of God. Truth could be crucified; but soon, perhaps, a resurrection

Sometimes, of course, it feels like we really are in an age that is rejecting reason. (Also, this passage seemed a better choice than my true favorite, “Bless me, Father. I ate a lizard”…!)

  • In This House of Brede. Not very far in, and loving it, despite Godden’s kind of hyphen-y style. More religious life! And just coincidence, since it’s something my parents got me off my Amazon wish list for my birthday. But so far it’s such a gentle, peaceful book for sleepy, firelit Advent evenings.

Happy Advent, y’all!

 

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas

You’re pretty burnt out by this point. You have one or two or five little Christmas elves actively undoing all you clean. Or you’re packing to go out of town and someone’s velvet Christmas dress doesn’t fit, nor will everything cram in the car.

Either you have your Christmas presents ready to go and are trying desperately to find places to hide them, or you don’t have them yet and don’t know when you’ll shop without the recipients riding around in your shopping cart.

Maybe your car is accumulating snow melt water on the floorboards as you drive from errand to errand. Maybe it’s not snowing yet, but the 40 degree rain is as bad. Maybe this was supposed to be your quiet, contemplative Advent.

On the radio, in the car, in the stores, at your kid’s lame Christmas concert, are fairly ridiculous secular Christmas songs. They jar in your head hours afterwards. But some of the lyrics linger:

“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

I’ll be home for Christmas, where the love-light gleams.”

Why are so many Christmas songs about home? It’s something I noticed while driving around snowy Western Mass a couple Advents ago, morning sick and homesick. Pip was in the backseat, J on a multi-state interview tour, Scout a tiny Charizard in my belly, and everything was in flux. The radio played, I drove to Target for pregnancy-craving beef jerky, I cried. There’s no place like home for the holidays, indeed.

Maybe you’ve had Christmases like that, where nowhere in particular felt like home, or you longed for Christmases past. (“They’re singing ‘Deck the Halls’ but it’s not like Christmas at all…“).

And now you have a home where the love-light gleams if only you could find it under half-written Christmas cards and cookie sheets that still need cleaning.

Advent is about making room, in practical ways, in lofty, interior ways. We give away toys, carve out space for the tree, try to find a little extra time in our day. We make space for the people, like Mary and Joseph, who needed a comfortable place to rest.

Embrace hygge. Embrace the shabby hospitality Mary extended to shepherds and kings alike. All you can do is what you must, as kindly as possible.

Advent can’t always be contemplative and slow, or picture-perfect, either, and Christmases can’t always be white. But if we look real hard, I do believe the love-light is there, in our homes, in our churches. And our work, as homemakers, to amplify that light, to keep it alive, is nothing short of the work of story and song.

“Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.”

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Advent: candles, wreathes, take out, pajamas.

Advent practices that should totally be a thing

I humbly submit these three weird things as practices you ought to add to your Advent. Because I’m no good at Jesse trees but can just about manage these.

  • Visit your elderly neighbors unannounced. 

They’re lonely, and they might help you enjoy your kids when you’re worn out, by reminding you that your kids are, in fact, enjoyable people. I’m not someone who feels super comfortable just popping in, but I want to be the kind of person who is. And last winter while we were visiting an elderly wheelchair-bound woman down the street, I accidentally left the Advent candles burning and the house didn’t burn down, so I like to think Jesus tacitly approved.

  • Clean out your car.

Make straight the paths and vacuum out those Cheerios. Even add a piney air freshener if you’re among the smelling. You’ll likely be caravanning someplace or other this Advent, and you’ll be a lot less cranky if snow melt isn’t puddling on months’ worth of discarded books and jackets and fast food wrappers.

  • Make crayon snowflakes.

I mean, in general, this is a good season to purge the toys, and stuff in general, but while you’re at it, gather up all your crayon nubs and those awful, waxy crayons you compulsively pocket at restaurants (just me?) and melt them together to make big rainbow crayons your kids can give to friends. It’s baking, without having to fuss at how they’re not measuring carefully enough! It’s cleaning, but with a pretty result! We use this mold, which I bought last year for an unsuccessful experiment in compound butter, and the lowest setting our oven can manage.